What Do I Do if My Dog Eats a Chicken Bone?
By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna
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A colleague recently sent me a photo of a small chicken drumstick, next to a picture for size comparison. The message? Her puppy just ate a chicken bone just like the one pictured…now what?
This concern is unfortunately common. Some breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, are well documented to be food motivated, especially in their first (puppy) year. Some dog personalities, despite the breed, can have the same tendencies. One of my Schnauzer patients was so food motivated that her owner trained her to do an elaborate routine before mealtime. And in my household, I have small children who are all too willing to “share” their meals/treats/healthy snacks with Sophie. So what about chicken bones?
Chicken bones are generally very small and fine. The smallness of the bone can be both a blessing and a curse, if your dog happens to eat one.
The first question: Did she eat it whole? Meaning, did she chew it? Because chicken bones are very fine, they shatter easily, especially after cooking. Shattered bones are the highest risk for perforating, or puncturing the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. If there is a perforation, it needs to be surgically corrected, as the gastrointestinal system can leak from the hole. This procedure can be very expensive, but serious infection and death can occur without treatment.
If she didn’t chew it, and swallowed it whole, the next major concern is a choking risk. If a wing 3 inches long and 2 inches wide is swallowed whole, it could choke an average size dog. Additionally, if the chicken bone is turned during the swallowing process, it could lodge in the throat. This position is not only uncomfortable, but it can result in secondary choking, as no food or water may pass. Additionally, it can cause an ulcer from irritating the lining of the esophagus. Again, surgery may be needed, or an endoscopic retrieval of the bone.
If she managed to swallow it whole, without chewing it or it getting stuck, it will proceed to her stomach, then her intestines. Here, it is at risk for blockage. If the bone is too large to exit her stomach, or pass easily through her intestines, the bone may get stuck, preventing food or other ingesta from moving through her system. This blockage may result in vomiting, gagging, diarrhea, or constipation. Many dogs display a painful abdomen, by vocalization, unwillingness to lay down, or “bracing” their belly. Bracing is a position a dog may take where she stands up, but holds her back into the air, similar to a frightened cat, or the yoga position “cat pose.” You may also see an increase in resting heart rate and resting respiratory rate in her Voyce data. Blockages are potentially life threatening. Without appropriate surgical treatment and medical intervention, the stomach can rupture, or she may get peritonitis. I have treated many of these cases, and they are always difficult, for the dog as well as the pet parent.
So…now what? It depends on how the chicken bone was swallowed. I recommend calling her veterinarian as a first step. Your veterinarian is your primary care provider, and should be aware of any possible emerging conditions, so he can help you monitor the situation.
Second, alert everyone in the household of what has happened, so everyone can help keep an eye on her. If she shows symptoms of retching, vomiting, pacing, or gagging, she should be seen by a veterinarian immediately to evaluate her for esophageal and gastrointestinal damage. Sometimes, a patient is kept overnight for serial radiographs. This procedure is when radiographs (xrays) are taken every few hours, to track food or a foreign object as it (hopefully) passes through her system.
Third, you can consider feeding her a piece of soft bread. In some cases, the bread may help to form a larger ball of ingesta, protecting her gastrointestinal system from the bone as it passes through. There is minimal scientific evidence to support this step, but it may make you both feel better.
Fourth, watch her feces. Though not overly appealing, monitoring her feces closely for the next 72 hours will let you know when you are out of danger. If she did not chew the bones, she may pass large fragments that can often be identified.
Fifth, and most important, is preventing her from doing it again. If your dog is a known “chow hound” I suggest keeping food and leftovers on a high table, far out of reach. You may also want to consider crating her during mealtime, to prevent a recurrence.
In many cases, everything goes well, but I never recommend feeding chicken bones or table scraps. The risk for a problem is high, and I never want to accidentally hurt Sophie, or any other dog, with a treat. I’ll stick to carrot sticks instead!